The In-Between

God has recently had me on a mission of speaking and believing good words. However, for years, my heart and mind were covered in harsh words towards myself and others. I am not exactly sure why, but somehow, somewhere, critical words crept in. I am beginning to believe the enemy saw this message of good words that God was planning to hand me and the devil just began his tactics of destroying that plan. Did you know God has plans for all of us, good plans that he planned long ago for us? (You can read Jer. 29:11 and Eph. 2:10 for more on that.)

Anyway, the past few years the Lord has been renewing my mind, restoring all the locusts have eaten and placing good words in my heart and mind. I have been on a path to restore what comes out of my mouth as well. However, recently, my mouth has wreaked havoc on some folks in my life. Just in the last week, I hurt the hearts of my dearest people with just a few sentences. My husband told me it’s amazing how we can destroy something we have been working so hard to build. It’s so true. Proverbs 18:21 says “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”  The next day, still grieved over what I had done, God revealed one of his stories to me that ministered to this soft, sad spot in my heart. I woke very early and could not go back to sleep. I landed on the quiet couch with some coffee, my Bible and my Words Journal.

I began reading the story of Jacob in Genesis 28. Jacob’s journey is a long, hard one. God makes Jacob many promises, and Jacob names the town where the promises occurred, Bethel, which means “House of God.” In a dream at Bethel, God tells Jacob He will give him this land, bless his descendants, always be with him, protect him, and bring him safely back to Bethel. The last part of verse 15 is my favorite: “I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised.

In reading Jacob’s story, two things stood out to me: 1. Jacob believed God at His word and 2. He never forgot the promises God made him. We go on a journey with Jacob through chapters 29-35 until he returns to Bethel safely, just as God promised. In these chapters, I saw that Jacob endure much strife in the in-between: In between Bethel and Bethel, until God finished this work. However, Jacob never doubts God’s goodness or forgets His promises.

Jacob’s in-between looked like this: Jacob meets God and receives many promises, Jacob marries a woman he doesn’t love, Jacob marries again to the woman he really loved, Jacob is deceived and stolen from many times by his father-in-law, Jacob’s daughter is raped by a prince and his sons murder the rapist and the members of the prince’s town.  During all of these long, sometimes difficult years, Jacob continues to work hard, press in, trust God, encounter God and declare God’s promises over him…until he finally makes it back to Bethel. There were at least 20 years from Bethel to Bethel for Jacob. The in-between: From the promises made until the promises fulfilled.

The in-between, the waiting, or until. I feel so in-between. I know God has promised me something, to renew my mind, to use my words for His glory. But I’m still in the in between, still learning how to love others and myself well with my words, still making mistakes. But I must remember God’s promise to me despite the in-between, the waiting. Just like Jacob. He endured such hardship and strife in the in-between. But he continued to encounter God and he continued to remember and declare the promises of God.

Do you any of you feel like you’re in the in-between? You know God has promised you something (Bethel) but you haven’t arrived to see the promised fulfilled? (Bethel.) Don’t give up, don’t stop believing or declaring. Don’t stop taking time to encounter God. God is in the in-between, he’s in the waiting!

Genesis 28:15- “I will be with you constantly until I have finished giving you everything I have promised.”

A friend of mine who has walked the in-between well sent me this song by Bethel Music the other day. I think it’s perfect for us while we are waiting… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r49V9QcYheQ

Love in the Telling

I am honored today to share a post from guest blogger, Julia Anderson from https://faithhopeloveandtherapy.com. Revelation 12:11 tells us that we triumph over the enemy by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony. Julia is finding victory thru this by sharing some hard parts of her story. I pray this encourages you to share your story or listen to someone else who needs to share.

Love in the Telling

“Last fall, my husband and I joined a new small group through our church. As part of the getting-to-know-each-other process of the small group, we were asked to each share our story. The thought of speaking in front of a group of people – even casually – gives me a horrendous case of stage fright. But this seemed non-negotiable, and so I rehearsed what I would say over and over – in the car, while doing laundry, in my head as I fell asleep at night. Over and over and over.

My husband, bless his soul, just decided to “wing it” on the night that it was our turn.

We both did fine – I managed to get through mine with a minimum of tears, and breathed a heavy sigh of relief that it was over. I felt as though I had muddled through; my story is about anxiety and depression and mental illness and anger at God….and finally peace with God and my illnesses and hope for the future. It certainly wasn’t glamorous.

But later that night my husband asked me how I felt, and I admitted to feeling relieved, and a bit victorious; to have shared such a private and admittedly painful part of myself with people I barely knew had been terrifying, but also very freeing.

I’m thinking of writing it down somewhere.” I said, “I don’t know where exactly, but somewhere. So maybe I can share it again sometime.

He looked at me with eyes both wide with surprise and simultaneously sincere, and said, “You need to do that. Think about what it would have meant for you to have had someone tell you that you were going to be ok when you were younger. Think about how that could have changed your life. Think about the lives you could be changing – just by talking and writing about what you already know.”

Shortly thereafter I found myself speaking to a group of teenagers and telling my story again, writing a blog with all the details and putting it out for the internet to find, messaging with relative strangers about mental illness within the Christian community. And it was terrifying, and hard…and freeing.

But more important than how it felt for me, the reaction from my friends, family, and strangers was not just supportive, but thankful. Thankful for talking about mental health, thankful for my vulnerability, thankful for my story, thankful for shared hope.

And it made me think – we all have a story to tell, but so many times it feels easier to stay quiet. Less risky.

Your battles may be different from mine, but the truth is that someone else is fighting the exact same issue right now. And your words, could be the love they need. Divorce? Financial problems? Drug or alcohol addictions? Cancer? Infertility? Infant or Child loss? Or have you survived parenting teenagers, defiant toddlers, middle school drama, or sending a child to college (TELL ME YOUR SECRETS)?

Whatever you’ve battled through, whatever giants you’ve faced down, your past could be life changing for someone else’s future. It doesn’t have to be in a blog, or online, or in front of a group – but the willingness to be vulnerable, to show empathy and understanding and love, is exactly what God calls us to do. There is love in the telling, in the sharing of the daily trenches, the celebration of minor victories, and the hand holding of broken hearts.

“Think about what it would have meant for you to have had someone tell you that you were going to be ok when you were younger. Think about how that could have changed your life. Think about the lives you could be changing – just by talking and writing about what you already know.”

God commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves.

I often think of myself as a preteen: anxious, depressed, and suicidal, and I imagine someone wrapping their arms around twelve-year-old-me and telling me that it was ok. Ok to feel all that I felt, that God loved me and called me His no matter what I was battling, that my faith was not lacking because of my mental illness. I imagine that instead of fighting alone for years and years, I had someone who knew me, who checked on me, and showed me God’s love. And I imagine that I spent my teenage years and young adulthood believing that God loved me, believing that I was worthy, believing that life was going to turn out ok.

And then, I sit down and write my blog, tell my story, reach out to others; loving them as I wish I could love myself, as I wish someone had loved me. Because loving our neighbors isn’t just a feeling or an attitude or a prayer, but rather a call to action, a battle cry. Love them enough to tell your story, no matter how dark or hard it may be, and then love them enough walk beside them through theirs.”

What beautiful, brave, good words! Julia is the wife of James, and the mother of three- Kaitlyn (16), Eliana (12), and Rucker (6). She has lived in North Georgia all her life, and has struggled with anxiety and depression for almost as long as well. She loves Jesus, coffee, spreadsheets, and naps. She hates yard work (but loves flowers) and dog hair (but loves her dogs!) She has created a safe space for people to share their stories and struggles regarding Mental Health at https://faithhopeloveandtherapy.com.

 

 

 

 

The Trade

What a mess things seem. Recent school shootings in the US. Terrorist threats at the schools in my county. My boys, sending them on the bus with my worry and prayers for their protection. They are in first and fourth grade. Too young it seems for me to have this anxiety. Prayer walks, prayer alarms, armor of God, warfare. It’s overwhelming sometimes, raising these boys in this day and age. Social media, Smart phones, pornography, bullies. All I have to protect them from. All I have to guard their eyes and hearts from.

But it starts with me, right? What about my heart and my eyes? Have I guarded them?

I was on a much needed walk today. I began thinking about the boys who threatened to harm students at our schools. I thought of their wounded hearts and wondered how they got that way. I wondered of their need for acceptance, approval, to be seen. Then as I looked at the clouds, I thought of the God who made the skies, who made me and these boys and my 3 boys. I heard God whisper, “Why am I not enough?”

Why is the gaze of the One who made the clouds not enough for us, for me?

Psalms 19:1 “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” This verse came to life today. The heavens were declaring to me His glory and yet it hasn’t been enough. I made a trade somewhere. Many of us have. Mark 8:36 states “And what benefit is it if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” The Message version says, “What could you ever trade your soul for?”

I’ve made a soul trade with the world. I’ve chosen to believe likes and followers mean more than the affection of my Creator. I’ve chosen to believe there is greater value in being visible than in sitting at the feet of the invisible God. I’ve chosen to believe friendship with the world is greater than the One who calls me friend.

When did I make the trade? When did I decide His gaze is not enough, and I must have the accepting eyes of others? Too many of God’s children have made the trade, and it keeps us distracted. Distracted from our calling. The calling is the Great Commission: to go and make disciples. The trade keeps my eyes on me and my accomplishments. It distracts me from the need of others.

I wonder again to the boys who terrorized our schools. Did someone in their life make a trade? Was someone’s affection elsewhere when it should have been on them? On their heart? Did someone miss the pain in these boy’s eyes because their eyes were other places?

God does not miss the pain in our eyes. Ever. But we can miss his gaze. If we knew his gaze, if we were familiar with it, sat with it, and gazed back, we would never need another eye on us. Ever.

Psalm 33:13, 18 “From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind. The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him.”

I have missed his gaze many times for many years. I haven’t taken the time to sit with him, to focus. My eyes are distracted and tired. My eyes have also missed my boy’s and my spouse’s heart. I have made a trade, friends. Somewhere the lie creeped in that I needed more. The enemy is so cunning. He has us all fooled. But I am exposing him now. I see. I am trading back the world’s gaze for God’s. I am rescuing my soul. Won’t you?

Psalm 141:8 “But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord.”

Pots

Do you ever not feel enough? Do you ever wonder how all the hopes and dreams inside you could ever happen, especially when you look at what’s occurring around you? Doors keep shutting, kids are needing, health is failing, your spouse is resisting, the bank account is depleting. Not enough. I have been there too.

Through a rabbit trail of thoughts today, God took me to pots. Yes, pots. There are pots all over the Bible. Who knew? Pots, jars, or vessels, were extremely important in Biblical times. They stored everything and were used daily. Imagine if we didn’t have Tupperware or Ziploc! That’s how important these pots were in the Bible. But did you know, Miracles happened using pots?

Check out the miracle in 2 Kings 4: 39-42. It involves a pot, some poison gourds and flour.  Crazy stories in this Bible! This story in 2 Kings led me to another story involving a pot. A dear friend sent me this next piece of the text in a time when I needed encouragement. I had never heard of this passage before. Check out her ministry here: www.handsonhealingministries.com.

It’s a wild story so hang with me. I promise I have a point. In Genesis 15, God is spending time with his friend, Abram (who later becomes Abraham). Abram is childless and has left his stomping grounds and God makes him a promise: You will have a child and your descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Many of us have heard this story, but I want us to focus on what happens next. I am about to share some weird and gross details from this passage, but I promise they are important! After God promises these decendents to Abram, there is doubt. He says to God, What use are your gifts as long as I’m childless?” (vs2). Have you ever whispered that? “What’s the point with this dream as long as I’m….broke, depressed, too young, too old, too single, divorced?” Fill in the blank.

God tells Abram not to worry, then he asks Abram to sacrifice several animals. Abram cuts the animals in half and places them side by side. In Old Testament times, animal sacrifice was common and important. After doing some research, I learned that passing thru the animal halves was a way to say that you will keep a vow. Jeremiah 34:18 references this stating that if someone breaks a vow they would be destroyed in the same manner as these animals. I am sure Abram was very hesitant to walk thru these animal sacrifices because there was no way he could agree to fulfill the promise of making a great nation. Plus, he didn’t want to be chopped in half when he failed! He didn’t even have one child, there was no way he could complete what God has just spoken to him. He was old, had a barren, old wife, he was an exile, all alone, not enough. God totally knew this about Abram and still chose him.

Before Abram could argue or try to muster up enough gumption to walk thru these animals, he fell asleep and then came “a sense of dread, dark and heavy.” (vs 12). Some versions say he experienced horror and darkness during this sleep. I have mentioned my bouts with dark shadows in some previous posts. I can relate to Abram, can you? I tend to see all the obstacles in front of me and then the dread sets in. I believe Abram slept and felt dread after receiving an impossible vision/promise from God. He realized he was not enough.

When Abram awakes, God assures him the promise will occur. Abram then sees a smoking pot and a flaming torch pass thru the animal carcasses (vs 18). If you’ve studied the Bible at all, you know God likes to show up as fire. So here, God (the smoking pot and flaming torch) is passing thru the animals for Abram. I imagine God is saying to Abram “I will make this happen for you, my child. You can’t do this alone. I know it seems impossible. Your body, your circumstances, your surroundings are not ripe for this. But I am. I can do all things. I will do this for you. I am enough!” I imagine Abraham, still exhausted from his heavy, depressing sleep, overwhelmed and relieved. All he had to do was to stay close to God and obey and this beautiful promise would occur. It would be as beautiful as the starry sky. The promised fulfilled would lead to the beautiful birth of our Rescuer, Jesus. And then Jesus would tell his people, “I have placed a treasure inside of you, my vessel, my pot of clay that will change the world.” See why pots are important? Miracles happen using pots.

2 Corinthians 4:7 “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

Let’s back up to the passage I mentioned in 2 Kings. There is another miracle that occurs in this chapter in vs 43. One of God’s prophets, Elisha, tells a man to feed one hundred people with a small amount of food. Elisha says to the doubting man, “The Lord says there will be plenty for all and there will be some left over.” Vs 44 says, “and sure enough, there was plenty for all and some left over, just as the Lord had promised.”

I want you to know, friend, God says to you, “There is plenty.” He will walk thru whatever is surrounding you as an all consuming fire and he will accomplish His impossible, beautiful plan. You are holding his treasure in you and you are enough because of Him. Just stay close and obey. Look at the second-half of 2 Corinthians 4:7 – “to show that this all surpassing power is from God and not us.”

Whatever dream or hope God has put inside of you, (his jar of clay), he will accomplish it despite your not enough. He is the God of plenty and there are always left overs! Now that’s a good word, friends!

Oh the Places You’ll Go!

Years ago, I had a crazy dream. In the dream, I was carrying around a container full of gross stuff. I would take care of this container, show it to my friends. It went with me everywhere I went. Weird, huh? I knew the dream was significant and after praying about it, God showed me that I was hanging on to something hard in my life. It went with me all the time and I needed to let it go. I was tending to or taking care of this hard thing and I didn’t need to anymore.

This morning I was reminded of this dream as I was reading in Romans 8. This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life.” (vs. 15, MSG).

To “tend” to something means to take care of, watch over, look after, to be a servant of, apply one’s attention to and move in the direction of. We all “tend” to things: our children, our home, our health. At Christmas we sing about shepherds tending to their flocks at night. Why in the world would we tend to a grave – a place of death? Why in the world would I tend to this container of gross, hard stuff? Why would we give care and concern to a dead, gross thing like a shepherd or a momma who tends to those they care for?

But don’t we all do that? We hang on to our hurt, our hard things. Things that God has asked us to let go of. We keep these hard things so close and sometimes we don’t even know ourselves without them.

I think of Lazarus in John 11. Lazarus is Jesus’ friend who has died and has been buried for 4 days. Jesus brings him back to life. VS 44 says, “and Lazarus came out, bound in grave clothes…Jesus told them ‘unwrap him and let him go!’” The MSG version says “Let him loose!”

Do you guys ever wonder if Lazarus went back to that stinky grave, crawled in and put back on those dirty, dead grave clothes? Do you think he wished he was still wrapped tight, bound by cloth, covered in death? Of course not! Then why friends, do we go back to our hard, dead places and hang out there when Christ says he has set us free? He said to Lazarus, “Come out” and he said to those around Lazarus, “let him go, let him loose!”

I believe He is saying the same thing to us!

What would happen if you really quit “tending” to the dead places, the hard things, and dark shadows in your life? Isaiah tells us He brings light to the darkness, rays of light, so his warriors can have joy! He wants to bring us back to life!

Romans 8:11 states “It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!”

 VS 12-15 “So don’t you see that we don’t owe this old do-it-yourself life one red cent. There’s nothing in it for us, nothing at all. The best thing to do is give it a decent burial and get on with your new life. God’s Spirit beckons. There are things to do and places to go! It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” (MSG)

Friends, I’ve tended to my little container for way too long. I am ready to bury those hard, gross things, take off my grave clothes and go! Will you join me? What could happen if all of God’s friends did this?

What are you still tending to? Why are you tending to it? Does it bring you peace, comfort? Is it scary to let go, acknowledge those dark shadows?

Jesus is so kind. I can imagine him sitting with Lazarus, unwrapping those grave clothes even though they smelled so bad, then embracing his dear friend and watching him live again. He will do the same for you! He didn’t die for us so we could stay dead. He tells us to Go! He has let us loose!

“You’re off to Great Places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting, so…get on your way! – Dr. Seuss, Oh the Places You’ll Go!

 

Dry Bones

We have a friend in the bible named Isaiah. Poor guy, sometimes a direct line to God is costly. In his book we see that God was looking for someone to deliver some hard words to his people. Isaiah had an incredible encounter with God involving an angel and some coal (Isa. 6) and after this experience, he told the Lord “I’ll go, send me.” So God took Isaiah at his word and began to give him messages to deliver to His children. One message was that God was going to destroy some of Israel because of their disobedience. Ugh, don’t you know Isaiah had an ulcer after that one! However, Isaiah also got to deliver the most amazing message to the people: he prophesied of the arrival of the Rescuer, the Messiah, Jesus!

Isaiah 7: 14 – “Look! The virgin will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel-God is with us.”

As we move on to chapter 9, we see that God was using destruction as a means of preparing the way for Christ. He says in Isaiah 8:22 “Wherever they look there will be dark despair.” Then in 9:2, “The people who walk in great darkness will see a great light.” A wise friend once told me, you can’t know light until you have seen the darkness. This resonated with me, and I think it gives insight into this passage. The destruction and darkness that occurs here prepared the hearts of the people for the great Light that was to come. The MSG version of Isaiah 9:2 says, “For those who lived in a land of deep shadows-light, sunbursts of light.” And in vs. 3, “They will shout with joy like warriors.”

I am personally coming out of a season of darkness. I have been stuck in this land of deep shadows for quite some time now. However, I didn’t realize how dark it was until I saw the light.

About 3 weeks ago, I processed what I think was the remainder of a heavy load of grief over the life and death of my father. I’ll save those details for another time, but grief unresolved breaks your spirit and “a broken spirit dries up the bones.” Prov. 17:22.

The same wise friend I mentioned earlier, pointed out to me that I seemed stuck. As I pondered and prayed over this, the Holy Spirit was so gracious to me and walked me thru a time of recognizing the depth of my grief. This grief that I had been carrying for many years had “dried up my bones.” God began to heal my heart, and I’ve noticed those dry places are changing. There is more laughter, more joy, more room in my heart to love. Grief had taken a sectional sofa and sat right down in the center of my heart, my spirit. Now that it’s gone, there is more room for everyone else!

There is a crazy story in the Bible that God brought to mind as I was thinking through this post. Take a minute and read Ezekiel 37: 1-14. God takes his man, Ezekiel, to a valley of dry bones and brings life to these bones! These bones represent the people of Israel. They are still struggling, and God is still loving them. They have told the Lord, “We have become old dry bones-all hope is gone.” Here is a great song about this passage: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e7PUW1olxx8

I can so relate to these Israelites. I have walked in the shadows and felt my old dry bones ache. I have wondered why I was living a half-life. After asking God to reveal what was keeping me stuck, He shed light on what the enemy was keeping so dark.

God has sent his son for us all as a Rescuer. To rescue us from our despair, our deep shadows and bring life to those dry places.

Isaiah gives us another amazing prophesy of what Christ will do for us. Isaiah 61:2-3 “He has sent me…to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

What parts of your life are covered in a shadow? What parts are dry and ache? Take a minute and ask God to shed light on areas that the enemy wants to keep dark. light

And of course I want you to write it down because you know it will be a good word!

 

Unwavering

Today we have been given a gift, friends. A gift of wisdom and insight into the Word of God; A powerful word from writer, Matthew Michael.  Matthew gives us insight into what we have access to because of our Heavenly Father. 

“We have this (a confident assurance) as a steadfast anchor of the soul, (it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whatever pressure bears upon it) a hope that enters into the inner place…” Hebrews 6:19 

Take a minute and let these words anchor your soul!

“Unwavering:

Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourself fully to the work of the Lord, because you know tha“t your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58

What a beautiful passage, so full of power. And yet, like so much of Scripture, I leave the power on the page. Here’s how I should read this passage:

“Stand firm, Matthew.

Don’t let anything move you, Matthew.

Give every ounce of yourself, completely, to the amazing work I’m doing all around you.

Matthew, do this because My work is always perfect and it’s shaping and transformational.

You’ll be a different person when you finish My work.”

In my world, there are so many things that try to move me. But, when I read Scripture like this – slowly, intentionally, directly – words start to lift from the page. God’s word for me in this passage is UNWAVERING.

It’s so easy for us to waver … when we are tempted with a moral shortcut, or tempted to be cozy with the sin that is wrapped around us, or to cut ties and move on when we are tired of someone or something.

But God says to stand firm, to not move, to be UNWAVERING.

I want to be unwavering in marriage.

I want to be unwavering in fatherhood.

I want to be unwavering in work.

I want to be unwavering in service.

I want to be unwavering in Christ.

That means I’m not moved by my emotions, my worry, or my stress. When my boys act like disrespectable baboons, people quit at work, my wife challenges me on sin, my ego is damaged, my friends don’t treat me like I treat them, my God doesn’t answer in my timing, my dad lives a life of sickness and dies early, my friends’ marriages start crumbling.

In all these things, God says to stand firm and not to waver. But how?

Scripture tell us our power is found in the Holy Spirit. An unwavering position is one of courage and discipline and God’s Spirit was left to properly equip us. I love 1 Timothy 1:7: “For the Spirit that God gave us does not make us timid. It gives us power, love, and self-discipline.”

Thank God.

Our calling is always aligned with God’s promise. When he calls us to be unwavering in our marriages, in our parenting, in our service to others, he gives us the spirit of POWER. In fact, the same exact Spirit that raised Christ from the dead is the one living inside of us. Talk about power (Rom 8:11). If that Spirit can raise a dead man it can maintain your marriage or renew your relationship with your children.

Nothing is too great for God to accomplish through us. Nothing is too great for God to repair through us. Nothing is too difficult or too tempting or too trying to keep us from standing firm. Nothing.

Let’s be unwavering in God’s power. After all, “if God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31) ”

Matthew Michael is the husband of Kim and the father of 3 boys, Garner, Riley and Harper. He is a leader in his home, church and community and is the Co-Founder of M&R Marketing in Macon, Georgia. Matthew is incredibly creative and a published author, loving words and really strong coffee. He is also my brother!